Water As Climate-change Security Threat In SE Europe

Transboundary Rivers, Hydropower And Water Pollution Among Key Risk Clusters

7 May 2021 by The Water Diplomat

Lake Skadar National Park Montenegro

Water features extensively in six of seven priority climate-security hotspots in South-Eastern Europe according to a report published by the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) and Berlin-based think tank Adelphi.

Hydropower, flooding and water pollution in the Drin/Drim and Sava river basins as well as the Drina valley pairs with water pollution from several past and present mining operations throughout the region to present a number of water-related risk multipliers that could impact security as climate change progresses in a part of the world that has been described as "one of the planet's warming hotspots".

Among the individual risk clusters identified by the report is energy. With hydropower, coal and lignite responsible for most of the region's electricity generation, the authors note that "environmental damage and water shortages caused by hydropower plants, especially many smaller ones, have led to protests and blockades", while also pointing out that less water availability as a result of climate change could present a further security flashpoint should electricity supplies be interrupted or prices rise in a region where energy poverty is already a "major challenge". Increased pressure to decarbonise away from coal will add to the potential security threat posed by hydropower, warns the report.

The Drin/Drim and Sava river basins are the main hydropower risk areas, with flooding and water pollution also identified as major security risks there.

Other risk clusters are transboundary rivers, where the report notes: "Even though transboundary water co-operation exists in the form of international agreements and regional basin management organizations, co-ordinated efforts need to be advanced to adapt to the impacts of climate change and avoid tensions."

Further transboundary tensions arise from the region's many mining operations, where "inadequately managed or abandoned mining sites and the severe pollution caused by them are an important challenge". The report warns that these existing regional tensions could be exacerbated by climate change due to "increased extreme precipitation events in winter and spring, as well as more intense snow melt resulting floods or landslides". It singles out the Zajača, Zvornik, Krupanj, Veliki Majdan, Srebrenica lead and zinc mines in Bosnia and Herzegovina and Serbia, as well as the Lojane chromium, arsenic and antimony mine in North Macedonia close to the Serbian border.

“Climate change is one of the most crucial issues of our time in the political, economic, social and environmental spheres," said OSCE secretary general Helga Maria Schmid, adding: "It can also emerge as a security issue when it interacts with other pressures such as unequal economic development, social inequality, and resource constraints."

The report is part of the OSCE’s project “Strengthening responses to security risks from climate change in South-Eastern Europe, Eastern Europe, the South Caucasus, and Central Asia”.